Researchers Create 3D Printing Process for Robotic Materials
A team of researchers from UCLA has developed a novel 3D printing method that could make robotic assembly a one-step process.
Results of a study, as well as a demonstration of a number of small bots printed using the technique, were published in the journal Science this month.
The novel technique uses piezoelectric “metamaterials” in the printing process. These materials are made up of multiple elements in a lattice design that respond to electric currents, designed to bend, rotate, expand or contract at high speeds. Study lead author Huachen Cui said the robotic materials can detect obstacles via ultrasound emissions, and respond to external stimuli through a feedback control loop.
Using these materials as a base, the team can create an internal network of the sensory, moving and structural elements needed to create a robot in one print. The only element that needs to be added after printing is a battery to power it.
“We envision that this design and printing methodology of smart robotic materials will help realize a class of autonomous materials that could replace the current complex assembly process for making a robot,” said Xiaoyu (Rayne) Zheng, the study’s principal investigator. “With complex motions, multiple modes of sensing and programmable decision-making abilities all tightly integrated, it’s similar to a biological system with the nerves, bones and tendons working in tandem to execute controlled motions.”
The bots created are incredibly small, around the size of a penny. Use cases could include the biomedical industry, potentially capable of entering a patient’s bloodstream to deliver medication at targeted sites or performing an internal examination.
Alternatively, the team said they could be deployed in hazardous environments such as collapsed buildings, with the integrated sensors making them useful tools to identify people trapped and sound an alert for help.